Reports from the Edge: Kinky TV  By Jane Boon

Reports from the Edge: Kinky TV By Jane Boon

. 4 min read

Our columnist — an “Extra” on Showtime’s Billions — gives us her inside take on its BDSM culture.

The perviest show on television is starting up again: Billions on Showtime. Its fifth season got interrupted by COVID, but as of September 5th, the second half of the season will be airing. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s basically a dick-measuring contest between Bobby Axelrod, the high-flying founder of a very successful hedge fund, and Chuck Rhoades, the Attorney General of New York. These men loathe one another, and every season features a new battle between the two, and new victims of their narcissism and ambition.

The show is very smart, slinging finance and game theory lingo around at a rapid pace. What it also does is offer one of the most nuanced and unexpected depictions of BDSM on television. Chuck Rhoades is an unrepentant sexual submissive and masochist.

I became a fan of Billions even before it aired. Several years ago, I took some improv classes in a bid to loosen up my public speaking style. My classmates were mostly young actors, eking out a living in New York, and some of them worked as background actors for TV. I was curious, and I love playing dress-up, so they told me how to find similar work.

Although I enjoyed period pieces—which meant wearing dresses from the 19th and early 20th centuries—even more, I loved fetish work. If some TV show or movie was shooting a BDSM scene, I always applied. And sometimes, I was even chosen. The chance to wear a corset, boots and gloves was irresistible.

In September 2015, this meant I found myself at a nightclub in Brooklyn that had been transformed into a BDSM dungeon. The show hadn’t aired, but I was familiar with the lead actors, Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. Since background actors are only slightly more important on set than furniture, we were all waiting quietly, slouched in our fetishwear, to see what would happen. Would the depiction of BDSM be laughable, as is so often the case, or something else? When I realized it would be Paul Giamatti who would be down on his hands and knees on the club floor, I breathed easier. The scene would be interesting. To see someone with as much personal power and charisma portraying a submissive? The writers of Billions had made some fascinating choices.

That dungeon scene was in the middle of the first season. The first episode, however, began even more forcefully. We find Chuck lying on the floor, bound and helpless. He’s being tormented by a mysterious brunette who singes him with her cigarette, and then, to soothe the burn, she pisses on him. At the end of the episode the identity of the dominatrix is revealed, and it’s Chuck’s wife, Wendy.

What the show demonstrates is that for Chuck and Wendy, kink is basically a proxy for the health of their relationship. When things are going well between them, they get freaky together and they both take enjoyment from it. They understand one another, and their trust is deep. When their relationship is strained, Chuck seeks other outlets for his pervy inclinations, or hectors Wendy into topping him, when she’s really not feeling it.

We see what happens when an interest in kink is asymmetric. Chuck needs it. It’s an essential part of his erotic diet. Wendy? Her wiring is different. When their marriage falls apart, Chuck begins doing overnight sessions with professional dominatrixes to satisfy his cravings. His interest in kink is heightened, and he permits himself to pursue really hardcore kinds of play. And when he is threatened with being outed as a kinkster during a political campaign, he leans into it, and fesses up, practically basking in the public humiliation.

Billions offers both a how to and a how not to of kink. Chuck is an obsessive and single- minded kinkster. He doesn’t respect his partner’s limits, and in a few instances, he doesn’t seek consent when undertaking a scene. The show also demonstrates how kink and its many flavors of play can be part of a healthy, hot and dynamic relationship.

I can’t wait to see what the show does with Chuck and Wendy going forward. They’re going to be tortured by the writers for the sake of our entertainment, and that kind of sadism works great when you’re at home, on a Sunday evening.

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